Saturday, May 19, 2007

Ottawa Makes The Stanley Cup Finals

The Ottawa Senators have just defeated the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in overtime to win their semi-final series 4 games to one. Now that they are in the finals, it is reasonable to ask just how good a team are they?

Last year, I argued that there were no elite teams in the NHL playoffs last year. I outlined two necessary but not sufficient conditions for an elite team. First, the team must have a top level goaltender and second they must have several players who are having Hall of Fame level careers. Now not every team in the NHL that fulfills these conditions will be an elite team that wins a few cups, but those that do will.

Ottawa fails in the first condition. Ray Emery is not a top flight goaltender. He has never had an all star season. He has never been considered for a Vezina Trophy. As recently as the beginning of this season, he was considered the backup to Martin Gerber. This has been a sticking point for Ottawa throughout their history. Though they have had several good seasons - and many times been picked as a serious Stanley Cup contender, they have never had a first class goalie in a playoff run in their history. The closest they ever came was Dominik Hasek last season, but he was injured and didn't play in the playoffs. Ottawa's goaltending history doesn't include any other great goaltenders. Ray Emery, Patrick Lalime, Damien Rhodes and Ron Tugnutt are hardly a who's who of great NHL goalies, but Ottawa has used all of them in playoff runs of the past.

In the second condition, it's not so clear. Ottawa doesn't have any players who would clearly go to the Hall of Fame if they retired now. The player who is most clearly on a Hall of Fame track is likely Dany Heatley. He is 26 years old and coming off his second straight 50 goal 100 point year. He has scored at above point per game rate throughout his career. He has won a Calder Trophy and last year made second team all star (and should this year as well). That said, Heatley has to keep up this level of play for several more years to be a full-fledged Hall of Famer.

Another player with some Hall of Fame potential, who has a less clear track then Heatley, is captain Daniel Alfredsson. Alfredsson is 34 years old. He has one career 100 point season. He has a Calder Trophy and is a one time second team all star. He is not too far behind point per game scoring over his career. However, at 34 he has probably played the best years of his career (most players do by his age). That said his last two years have been the best of his career. Daniel Alfredsson is a serious Conn Smythe candidate should Ottawa win the cup. That would go a long way toward making a case for him as an elite player. Alfredsson despite being in his mid 30's is not too far along in the all time NHL scoring leaders. He could have another season as productive as this one and still not have cracked the 100 top point scorers of all time (not that that would be enough to make him a Hall of Famer). There are a few reasons for this. He turned 23 in his first NHL season and hence missed out on a few years of potential scoring. During the first few years of his career he always seemed to suffer an injury which kept him from playing the whole season. Like everyone else, he missed a season to the lockout at a time when his productivity was at a peak. These are all excuses, but the point is Alfredsson is only now beginning to show signs that he is an elite player (though he has been an all star for a while) and his career numbers are not impressive enough for a player of his age. This may change if Alfredsson continues to play at a top level, but a true Hall of Fame track player should have accomplished more by age 34.

Another potential Hall of Famer is Jason Spezza. Spezza is 23 and has had two seasons as a good scorer. He will have to continue to score at this rate and likely continue to improve to have a Hall of Fame career, but the potential is there.

The fourth (and only other player worthy of serious Hall consideration on the team at this point) is Wade Redden. Redden has been an all star level defenceman for a while, though he only has one All Star game appearance (in 2002). He is 29 years old and would have to make a jump to elite level and win or at least contend for a couple Norris Trophies to make a leap to Hall of Fame level, though it is not unprecedented for a defender of Redden's calibre to make that jump at his age.

All told, Ottawa has a few players who might have Hall of Fame careers, but none are sure things. Ottawa does not have a top goalie. In the pre-lockout days, this is a team that might be a Stanley Cup contender but it is not the kind of team that wins the cup. In the post-lockout days when it is much harder to keep a successful team together this is quite possibly what a Stanley Cup winning team looks like. I think they are better than Carolina in 2006. However the question that matters is are they better than either Detroit or Anaheim this year?


NHL evolves, we don't NEED Elite teams anymore, what makes you think we need them at all? All that matters is who wins the Cup. Thank goodness for salary caps since Elite Teams can easily be "bought". basically, elite teams goto whatever team can afford it.

When does a goalie become "top-flight?" Is it possibly after a lengthy playoff run (as was the case with Kiprusoff in 2004)? It's not like Patrick Roy was considered a "top-flight" goalie when he stole the show in 1986... that title came a bit later.

Anyways, it doesn't matter who can boast the most future hall of famers, or the goalie with the most career wins or Vezinas; all that matters is who wins 16 games the fastest. And if Ottawa can beat Anaheim or Detroit, they will be considered the best team in the league by 99% of hockey observers.
You position is that you don't want to have elite teams around? Hockey is better watching more mediocre teams play for the cup? It is in the fasn's best interest to see teams that are as good as possible in the Stanley Cup playoffs - except those teams do not exist.

The idea that elite teams can be bought is outright wrong. At least it was under the old CBA where players were unavailable to be bought until they played the best years of their careers (you couldnt be a UFA until age 31). Under the current CBA you can be a UFA as young as age 25. Now you can buy players before they reach their primes. That was never possible in the past. And the salary cap is going up so quickly that small market teams cannot afford to spend at that level. I think you are much better able to buy an elite team if you have a big market today than you were in the past CBA.

Last season, Ottawa was not an elite team either. Their goaltending come playoff time was worse than it is this year as Ray Emery had one year less experience and he had no backup as capable as Martin Gerber. However, they had two more players who one could argue might have been on Hall of Fame tracks in Zdeno Chara and Martin Havlat. Did Ottawa buy those extra talented players? Nope.

The facts disagree completely with your assertion.

I asm not talking about if a team is considered the best team in the NHL by observers. I am talking about whether or not they are an elite team. A memorable team that one could consider as a contender to be an all time great. Or are they instead a mediocre forgettable Stanley Cup winner like the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes?
Are you slamming Ottawa or are you praising them? I'm somewhat confused. In your blog you mention they're not an "elite" team, but then you talk about "extra talented" players that you say are not exactly future hall of famers, but rather, the closest things Ottawa has to them.
Can you GUARANTEE a Stanley Cup win for a team that you consider as "Elite"? Its certainly not Ottawa as you diss them in your article.

Sounds like according to you, the Wings are the only team worthy of watching, and the rest are all mediocre.

A good thing about hockey is that a team, whether it be elite or not, still has a chance at winning the game. I rather watch a team play with heart and soul rather watch a bunch of overpriced pretty boys.
I think the definition of an "Elite Team" should have only one mandatory requirement. And that is that the ENTIRE team plays at an elite level.

You can have all the star power on your roster, but if the team on the ice is not as good as the team on paper, it's meaningless.

A few great players and a star goalie can only get you so far and it's been proven many times
If you don't have enough all star power then your team cannot be an all time great elite team no matter how good their players play. Elite teams have great players who are playing great.

Do we have any of those in the NHL anymore? I am not convinced we do. I think Ottawa is a step below that.
The New York Rangers are a team of "BOUGHT" elite players and have been for a number of years.
Where are they now.... golfing!
Remember Emery is 23 and he was pegged to be the Senators goalie of the future when he started playing for them. He has many years to learn and to get to the level of Martin Brodeur, an elite goaltender, a man that Ottawa beat.
Yes Ottawa has a couple of players that are very talented and may in the future reach star status..Spezza, Heatley, but remember they are young also and god willing they will be great too.
Remember that hockey is a team game , and it is that team that wins games , not individuals, and as a team , the Senators are playing the best hockey that they ever have, led by their captain , who is also having a banner year.
So who needs elite players when you have a great team.


An Ottawa Sens Fan
If you think the Rangers bought a lot of elite players but couzldn't make the playoffs with them then why was there a need to lockout the league for a year and chnage the entire CBA?

Fact is the Rangers could buy players. They could buy old players who are passed their prime.

That problem has been fixed. Now players who come on the market are much younger - so if the Rangers do their jobs well they should be able to buy an elite team in the future. They never could in the past. They could only buy an old expensive underachiever.
I'm not sure if I agree that any Stanley Cup winner will be considered immediately forgettable. There have been a few truly great teams in history that could challenge for the title of best of all time (the Canadiens of the 50s and 70s, the Islanders of the early 80s, the Oilers of the later 80s, the Red Wings of the late 90s) but there have been plenty of teams that have had elite level goaltenders and multiple future hall of famers that have not won anything. THEY are the ones who are forgotten. The 1993 Montreal Canadiens had an elite goaltender, but a rather mediocre team in front of him yet I remember that team quite well--they played great hockey when it mattered most and won ten overtime games showing a resiliency and desire to succeed. Does anyone really care that teams who fit the "elite" criteria more than they did (Calgary, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Los Angeles etc) didn't win? Does anyone think that the quality of hockey played by the Cup winner was compromised by them being a team with only one superstar? I don't think so.

The fact is that the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006 with a team that put together 16 wins. They didn't have to face the 1984 Edmonton Oilers on the way, but no team did that year. Yet I remember watching some really great hockey.

You write: "It is in the fasn's best interest to see teams that are as good as possible in the Stanley Cup playoffs - except those teams do not exist." I disagree on two points: One, give me two less-than stellar *all-time* teams who match up well against each other over a 60-win team full of greats playing an over-matched eighth seed happy just to be in the playoffs. As a fan, one of my favourite series to watch in the past several years was the 03-04 first round series between Vancouver and Calgary. Or the 01-02 series between the Leafs and Islanders. Not a lot of "eliteness" there. But great hockey that was played to my "best interest."

And two, those teams DO exist, because in any given year, teams are measured ONLY against teams from that year, not against the great dynasties from the past. Ottawa has shown to be one of the best teams this year, regardless of its players future accolades. And you know what, I'm watching some great hockey as a result.
Strange. I thought hockey fans wanted to see elite teams play in the elite games (like the Stanley Cup finals). But what I get here is some people arguing that they like to see mediocre teams more. Really strange.
Ottawa is not mediocre by anyone's definition of the word except your own, which is to say they are not "elite." Neither Detroit nor Anaheim are either. Last year, Carolina and Edmonton were, based on projections of their players' future careers, no more than *good* teams. However, they played exceptional hockey and beat out all other contenders with better goalies/more future hall of famers and all. That says something. No one I know complained about the quality of hockey then... a seven game series is long enough to determine a better team for that seven games, and thus, the right to move on to the next round. Win three seven game series in a row against the best in your conference and I say you've earned the right to play elite level games. Absolutely NO ONE but you is complaining that Edmonton and Carolina represented their conferences last year. Again, teams are matched up only against teams from THAT YEAR. I don't care if I'm watching a reincarnation of the 1950 Canadiens or not; I want good hockey. Complain all you want that your definition of an "elite" team hasn't been met for a couple years; no one's really listening. People watch hockey because they want to see exciting, quality games between teams who want to win, something that we have definitely seen the past few playoff years. No one's guaranteed a win with a stacked team; no one's guaranteed a loss with a team with a bunch of pluggers. That's entirely why you play the games and why we, as fans, watch them, is it not? To see upsets, to see the unthinkable happen, to witness heroic and surprising acts of play to achieve the dream. No one I know cares where the players will end up compared to the greats; hockey games and playoff series are about the now, not the future, and not the comparisons to the past.

Somehow, people seem to find a way to actively become passionate about college, junior and minor league hockey. Amazing that they'd actually want to see that! I guess someone should inform them that they're merely watching mediocrity because all else isn't worth it. It's sounding like, if it were up to you, the Stanley Cup Finals series would really take place before any games are played--why bother playing the entire 82 games of the regular season and 15+ in the playoffs when we all know that only the teams with future hall of fame talent should be competing for the Stanley Cup. St. Louis, Edmonton, Minnesota, Los Angeles, Montreal... don't bother showing up next year at all, you're not *elite* enough.

Get off your high horse and don't tell me what I think about the hockey I'm watching. Having seen exceptional hockey played at all levels, I know what's worth watching.
I would call Ottawa a elite team. They've beaten the number three seed and number one seed in the playoffs - beating an elite goalie (NJ) and a high powered offense (Buff).

I fail to see why a elite team has to have elite players - there is a bunch of elite players watching the playoffs instead of playing in them (or in the case of the USA's national team, not winning). By definition, a team is a group of players that play well together.

The fact that Ottawa has beaten teams that are "better" on paper further justifies my opinion that they are a elite team. The skill level of each player doesn't make a team elite, it is the way they play together that makes a team elite. Each player only has to fulfill his role for the team to win, rather than having a long list of stats or awards to his credit.

I would also argue that teams made up of super stars are not better than a team that plays very well together. All Star teams seldom live up to their billing, a good team usually beats a group of stars thrown together. Again,Team USA is a example of a team that has great players, but can't play well together.
Once again. The conditions of having a top goalie and having several players who are future hall of famers are necessary but not sufficient conditions to be an elite team. I don't think people understand what that means. It means that merely fulfilling htose conditions in no way makes a team elite, but if they are not fulfilled there is no way the team can be elite.

And as for the claim Ottawa beat teams that are better than they are on paper - its completely false. Most media pundits (myself included) picked them to win all three series they played in. You dont pick a team to win when the team they are playing against is a better team. The handful of point in difference between the teams comes down to Ottawa's slow start and nothing more. October and November are hardly relevant to what happens come playoff time.
"October and November are hardly relevant to what happens come playoff time."

And neither are the number of accolades a team's players will win in their careers. In other words, elite level hockey can, and is, being played by the current semi-finalists, just as it was being played by last year's finalists as well. If they weren't playing the best hockey in the league, they wouldn't be, or wouldn't have been playing for the Stanley Cup. The 2006 Carolina Hurricanes weren't playing the 1982 New York Islanders for the championship.
Don't you think that it's more than a little ridiculous to decide whether a 24-year-old goaltender who is in his first year as a starter is a "top-flight" goaltender or not?

Also, you missed Jason Spezza as a possible future hall of famer. He's 23 years old and has average 1.31 points per game. If he does that for just 10 seasons, he'll hit 1000 career points.
I didn't miss Jason Spezza. Read the article again.

Its not ridiculous at all to decide Ray Emery is not a top flight goalie. He's been in the NHL two years and has shown no signs that he is. Most polayers don't become superstars. Its a default position that a young player won't be one until he proves otherwise. Emery has the 12th best saves percentage of the playoffs so far. Thats not a sign he's a superstar in the making is it?
It's great to see how an anonymous writer "The Puck Stops Here" can say so much, with matter of fact punctuality. And what are your credentials in hockey? What are your writing credentials? Where is it that this elite team formula by one has been penned? It must be by this "elite" anonymous hockey writer as yourself. Well to live up to such elite levels, I too will remain anonymous.
The problem TPSH is that your conditions are based solely on your own subjective view of what a historical elite team is.

You can't judge the quality of a team based on individual players any more than you judge individual players on the quality of the team.

Otherwise you the following players must be mediocre:

Marcel Dionne
Gilbert Perreault
Cam Neely
Darrel Sittler
Dale Hawerchuk
Tony Esposito
Brad Park
Mike Gartner
Peter Stastny

etc, etc, etc....

Because these players never one the cup. And any argument that says a team that did not win the cup is more 'elite' than a team that did win the cup will be weak. (Though I fully expect to read one in your next response)

Here's my condition for teams to be considered elite: Success.

Players are judge on individual stats.

Team are judged on team stats.

Any attempt to connect the two is a result of one persons opinion on how they should be connected. Why not 1 goalie and 4 all stars. or 1 goalie, 2 all stars and one selkie winner. or 1 goalie, one all-star and 1 great coach. or 4 players with blue eyes, and 5 with brown eyes.

But what am i talking about. Your system must be right based on all the positive feedback you're getting. ;)
Here's my condition for teams to be considered elite: Success.

On this point we agree. But teams don't have elite level success unless they have a top goalie and a few players on Hall of Fame tracked careers. It doesn't happen. It has never happened.

Of course merely having a random group of hall of fame level players in no way guarantees elite level suiccess. It is a necessary but not sufficient condition.
The rest of your criticism does not in anyway apply to anything I said.
To my understanding, you are saying that every team in this NHL is mediocre with the exception of Anaheim, New Jersey, and Detriot (and possibly Calgary, NYR, and Vancouver), correct?

Against what standard, however, do you call these teams mediocre? Against the Oiler's of the 1980's? The Islanders before them? The Canadiens of the 1950's? Because comparing Ottawa or Buffalo to Calgary or Anaheim certainly does not make them mediocre.

Also, are there truly no shades of gray? Does every team that does not have future HOF'ers or a "top-flight" goalie have to be considered mediocre? Or is there no such thing as a "good" team?

You are also inferring that individual statistics and talent are more important than the team aspect, which is true only in Fantasy hockey. An Elite team must put the team aspect first, or else it is merely an Elite group of players. You are completely throwiug out the team aspect, making your argument very hard to accept.

To say that the Senators and Sabres are mediocre in this year's NHL is a ridiculous statement, because they are the cream of the crop and although they do not appear to have future HOF'ers, they put the team aspect first, and in Ottawa's case have all the intangibles needed to win, as well as vast amounts of talent that i believe is equal to or greater than the talent of the Anaheim Ducks.

Also, a team's level of play is extremely important, and at this point the Senators have been our playing the Ducks by a wide margin (although not head to head).

This Elite team notion is ridiculous and you have an extreme elitist notion of what that is. Just because a team signed some free agents does not make a team more special than one that has chemistry and spirit.

Either watch these playoffs and enjoy it, or just watch Oilers' footage from the 1980's. I am an Ottawa Senators fan, and I could not care less whether or not you have branded this team elite as long as this team wins the cup (which I truly believe they will).

Are you going to complain that even though the Sens have given everything on the ice, have great chemistry, a wonderful penalty kill, and a youthful team they don't deserve to be this far because they don't fall under your concept of elite?

Are you suggesting that just because these teams aren't the greatest ever, they are mediocre and the hockey won't be fun to watch? there are plenty of future HOF'ers and Top-flight goalies who have never won a cup and are watching these playoffs from their homes because the team wasn't as good as the other one.
To my understanding, you are saying that every team in this NHL is mediocre with the exception of Anaheim, New Jersey, and Detriot (and possibly Calgary, NYR, and Vancouver), correct?

Incorrect. Which makes the rest of your rant rather pointless. I do not call anyone elite in this post. It is quite possible nobody in the NHL is an elite team - should one exist it is Anaheim.
If the Senators win the Cup this year, you are going to say that it's not in the fans' best interest and that they were a weak Cup winner. But what happens if Ray Emery turns out to be a top flight goaltender for the next decade and beyond? And if Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson all put up the numbers to be entered into the hall of fame? And if Wade Redden wins a Norris trophy? Will you then look back and say, "Ah, yes, they were an elite team. Now everybody will remember them, although they had forgotten them before when they weren't considered an elite team."? If you want to judge the NHL teams by your critereon to decide whether or not they are elite, go for it. Your articles are interesting and entertaining. But to say that fans are being let down, and that nobody will remember the team, because of some rules you made up in your spare time, you need to pull your head out of the sand. If the Sens win the Cup, everyone will praise their ability to combine skill, consistent goaltending and tight-checking, close-scoring playoff hockey. Canadians will rejoice in the team breaking Canada's longest Stanley Cup drought in history. And Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza will be heroes in Ottawa, names never forgotten and passed down as legends. So go ahead and rate the teams based on their stars. But don't tell us fans what we want.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?